So, how does Bush Administration define torture?

President Bush was on television last week lamenting how Congress isn't giving him everything he wants the way it did during the previous six years.

He got so used to being a de facto dictator that he forgot how democracy works. Someone should hand the president a copy of the Federalist Papers so that he might refresh his memory a bit on the concept of checks and balances between the co-equal branches of government.

But Bush doesn't like democracy as much as dictatorship. "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator," Bush said during a meeting with congressional leaders in December of 2000, and he's been living the dictator life ever since.

What Bush is complaining about this time is that Congress may block the nomination of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General, after Mukasey refused to state that the Spanish Inquisition-era torture technique known as waterboarding is illegal.

Mukasey tried to make the case that he couldn't pass judgment on a hypothetical situation, that he would need a real case to determine if holding someone down and forcing water into his mouth to simulate drowning is torture.

It really is a stunning answer if you think about it. Here is, possibly, the next top law enforcement officer in the country who can't tell you if something is illegal until someone actually commits the act first.

So, I'm guessing you would get the same non-answer if you asked him if using a cattle prod on someone constituted torture. How about the rack? The guillotine? Do you need to sever someone's head to call it illegal? Mukasey had a second excuse as well, that he didn't want to get anyone in the government in trouble who might have used the technique in questioning terrorism suspects. Gee, talk about the floating principle of relativity.

Whether or not something is legal depends on if your boss-to-be could be guilty or not.

All of this wouldn't be such an issue if Bush's last Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, wasn't such a brown-nosing sycophant that he pretty much turned the heretofore independent Department of Justice into the enforcement division of the Republican Party. Gonzales - or Fredo, as Bush so aptly nicknamed him - left only after his bumbling became so bad that not even Republicans could defend it.

Congress demanded that the next Attorney General be independent, someone who would stand up to the commander in chief and give him the truth.

But Bush can't handle that truth. He wants his own version of the truth, and he'll torture whomever he has to in order to get it.

What is it about torture that so captivates this crew? Any number of interrogation experts from World War II and later have testified that torture doesn't produce good intelligence, as those being tortured will tell the torturers whatever they want to hear.

But perhaps that is the reason they like it so much. The Bush crew has consistently said they know the truth; they believe what they believe, facts be damned. Their only real need for "information" is to confirm those beliefs. You might say torture is the perfect tool for them. It certainly worked that way for Torquemada and his merry band of inquisitors.

Need confirmation that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are buddies? Just give the CIA a jug of water and a couple of minutes with some of our guests in Guantanamo and the evidence will magically appear.

Maybe this torture thing goes deeper, as a way for Bush and his draft-dodging buddies to appear tough and brave. See, they will resort to torture because they aren't girly-men. Torturing people makes a man more manly.

Gee, I bet Yukio Asano wishes Bush was in office back in 1947. Asano was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for using waterboarding against an American civilian during World War II. He'd be surprised today that there is even a debate about its legality.

It's a pretty one-sided debate. The State Department considers the practice torture when other countries use it. It's banned under international law.

And the Army Field Manual specifically forbids its practice.

But as long as Bush and Mukasey keep playing their word games about how they don't torture, but will not reveal how they define torture, this embarrassing debate will continue.

I wonder if they know how much derision and ridicule this issue fosters among anyone outside of their he-man torturer's club, if they know how we have become a pathetic laughingstock in every corner of the world.

I wonder if they care.

• Kirk Caraway is editor of and also writes a blog on national issues at


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